“Henry VIII and his six wives” – Channel Five
This has been presented by two of Five’s favourite history presenters: Dan Jones and Suzannah Lipscomb. Perhaps the title isn’t the best of starts, as Ashdown-Hill (Royal Marriage Secrets, ch.10, pp.95-113) has shown that Henry may have contracted as few as two valid marriages, the third and sixth ceremonies.
Jones begins every episode by reciting the familiar mnemonic, although the fact that four of the marriages were annulled and none really ended in “divorce” is not mentioned. It is clear, from Jones’ description of Henry as “England’s most notorious King”, a “monster” and a “tyrant”, that he likes the “Tudors” no more than he does their Plantagenet predecessors.
The series starts well with a detailed discussion of Catherine of Aragon’s relationships with Arthur and Henry, including her years as a virtual prisoner from 1502-9 and her subsequent fertility, although Arthur’s boasts are not mentioned. Then the annulment campaign begins and Anne Boleyn is introduced. Here, the pace of the series moves on a little to her end and Wolsey is scarcely mentioned. Torture is shown being applied to one of her lovers but they are executed off camera. Jane Seymour’s time is used to illustrate Henry’s positive emotions although Anne of Cleves is portrayed like a badly-designed doll as Henry once again strives for a legal loophole and Cromwell is despatched for not finding one. As late as 1541, Henry is shown doing the sign of the cross.
Catherine Howard then flits across the screen, raising Henry’s blood pressure further, writing silly letters and having a block delivered to her Tower cell for “practice”, although her relationship with Dereham is not fully explored. Catherine Parr, Catherine of Aragon’s goddaughter, is then shown as restoring Henry’s equilibrium and giving the Reformation a further boost, as Bishop Gardiner tries to persuade him to complete a hat-trick of executed “wives”. Henry resists and dies peacefully.
This subject was covered in 2001 on Channel Four by Jones’ mentor David Starkey who, despite his misconceptions of the previous years , knows the reign of Henry VIII inside out.